Saturday morning is the best time to be driving the car. The traffic is light and there are rarely any accidents. My destination is the farmers market in the old part of the city. I love the brownstone buildings, the black iron curlicue railings and front doors with brass knockers. Majestic trees are sentinels that guard the sidewalks and the uneven narrow cobbled streets. Its always been my favourite area to explore.
The market was filled with shoppers bargaining. The noise was deafening. I strolled the aisles and was jostled, an arm reached out to prevent my falling. I saw a pair of familiar piercing blue eyes. I had stumbled into the path of Jack who had been my soulmate more than 40 years ago. He turned and wrapping his arms around me hugged me tightly to his chest. The wool coat was scratchy on my cheek with a faint odour of mothballs, I breathed in his aftershave, a blend of spices. My physical response to his presence amazed me, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, my palms were slick with perspiration, my breath fast and shallow. He stayed by my side casting the occasional glance sideways and I concentrated on some deep breathing exercises.
“I live down the street in the third brownstone from the corner, the one with the yellow door and the potted fir trees by the front steps” said Jack in a conversational tone. “Come and join me for coffee.” I had always had a desire to see the interior of one of these heritage homes. We walked in silence down the street and he lay his hand in the small of my back as I turned to walk up his front steps. A frisson of excitement, that small gesture had always been the most heart warming and sexiest of touches. A dog was barking furiously and with a laugh Jack unlocked the door which opened to a vista of hardwood floors, creamy walls and hundreds of framed pictures. “His name is Angus, you’re a noisy rascally dog” said Jack as he reached down and picked up the bundle of wriggling fur.
The kitchen was stunning in its starkness and simplicity. The appliances were cleverly concealed and I knew instinctively that they would all be top of the line. White with a splash of black marble the countertops ran the length of the room. Mullion paned windows overlooked the enclosed back garden. Sleek solid wood stools with top grade grained leather seats. Wow. My kind of place I thought as I mentally compared it to my out dated country kitchen. Jack filled a kettle with water and set it on the six burner gas stovetop. I wondered who was the chef.
He turned from the stove and I glanced down at his long tapered fingers casually resting on his thighs. Those were the hands of an artist, a master photographer in the world of high fashion. The photographs on the walls were a varied display of beautifully clothed women, men and children. Interspersed were architectural gems from around the world, an occasional seascape and a few stark landscapes. Jack was a legend in his field, self taught, born with an innate gift of recognizing and capturing exquisite human moments. I remembered hearing too that he had suffered a massive heart attack a few years ago and had withdrawn from the public eye.
“You’re looking really well Clare, said Jack as his gaze went from my head to my feet. I like your look of casual chic.” I laughed and said “ Some things just stay the same. I was a free spirit when we were together and my fashion sense hasn’t changed. I love being comfortable in loose cotton clothing, the naturalness of the fibres next to my skin. I guess I’ve always felt that I wanted the outside me to be a reflection of my inner self.” I moved around peering closer at his black and white photographs. “Your working world of high fashion is a foreign one. I love how you have captured the tonal shade of greys and whites.” I turned around and smiled at him, “ Do you remember taking pictures of me and the hours we spent together in your darkroom developing them and your frustration at not being able to capture on film what your eye had seen?” Jack nodded in remembrance.
The kettle whistled and in a shaky movement he turned off the gas flame and reached into a cupboard for a glass carafe and a can of coffee. Having brought my earlier purchases from the market into the house I said “Jack, let’s use my coffee “. I opened the bag and the sensual aroma wafted out between us. “ I love this smell and the taste is divine.” I blushed thinking of other memories of our past together.
“This kitchen is a chef’s delight”, I said as I carried my coffee over to the eating bar, pulled out one of the stools and with relief sat down to rest my legs. I knew it because with my husband I had owned a restaurant in a small community outside of the city. Jack glanced around and said “ Yes, my late wife loved to cook. She wasn’t able to have children and so she poured her energy into preparing haute cuisine. We entertained extensively and she was well known as a superb chef.” He laughed wryly. “As you can see from my coffee choice cooking isn’t my strong point, in fact I rarely enter this space unless it’s to pass through to the back garden. I eat out most of the time which suits me better than spending time here alone.” I gave him my condolences and remarked that my late husband had also been a chef.
I listened to the ticking of the grandfather clock as we sat in silence together. Walking past the living room I had noticed the beautiful furnishings and recognized some of the antiques. The dining room table was the same one that Jack and I had sat at after my high school prom to eat some celebratory cake that his mom had baked. She had been a young at heart woman who had welcomed me into her home and been delighted that Jack and I were together. Unlike my own mother. I didn’t want to talk about our shared past, after all it had been many years ago. My memories of events too were perceived ones anyway, my emotions a very remote memory. Intangible. I had come to terms with our break up and had moved forward into a wonderful life of my own.
“I am enthralled with these old houses,” I said,“ I’ve walked past these hundreds of times over the years and always wondered who was fortunate enough to be living in one. The symmetry is perfect and I love it when the morning sun sparkles against the convex glass in the old casement windows. It reminds me of the bottom of old bottles, imperfect glass. I love the boxes mounted below the windows containing a waterfall of colourful flowers. The bow window at the front makes me think of an aristocrat peering down her nose at a commoner.” I’d always had an active imagination, a curious and creative mind.
Jack stood up, put out his hand to me and said “Come with me.” He grasped my hand in his and we went up the stairs to the second floor. Wall to wall the shelves were filled with hundreds of books, arranged according to the colour of their spines. The smell of paper and ink and leather mixed in with the furniture polish. A real library smell. A beautiful mahogany secretary had pride of place. Jack opened the glass door on top of the desk, reached in to the middle shelf and took out a framed certificate and handed it to me. Stamped with an official seal from the local University it stated that the bearer was given the use of the house in perpetuity. I looked at Jack questioningly and he said, “ No, it wasn’t given to me but to my wife. Her father had been tenured as a Professor and she had followed in his footsteps and so was able to continue living here in her childhood home. I’m entitled to live here until my death. I won’t be making old bones. I’m feeling especially sad now when you have come back into my life. Time is too short for rejoicing.” I could feel the tears welling up as Jack gathered me into his arms.